We hate to say we told you so, but...
(Hang on, that’s not true. It’s never true. “I hate to say I told you so” is one of those sentences that’s always a lie, isn’t it? People love to say they told you so. Saying, “I told you so” is right up there with sex, booze and food as a near-universal human pleasure.)
But anyway. Back in November, we published an article by Rachel Holdsworth, under the headline Sadiq Khan’s promise to freeze London’s fares will be the mayoral election’s “first broken promise”. It concluded:
TfL’s budgets are notoriously impenetrable but the general consensus these days is that yes, the reserves are needed elsewhere. There isn’t a pot of leprechaun gold that can give everyone £5 a month off their travelcard. Sorry.
So if a mayor did freeze fares, something else would have to give. Either upgrade works would be postponed or cancelled, or new projects might not happen, or staff and/or services could be cut (cue strikes)
In other words – Sadiq Khan was not going to be able to deliver on his promise to freeze fares, without doing the transport network serious harm. And so, in the event of his being elected, he was almost certainly going to quietly abandon the whole thing.
And lo, it came to pass that yesterday the Evening Standard did report:
Furious commuters today accused Sadiq Khan of breaking a key election pledge after it emerged hundreds of thousands of Londoners would miss out on frozen travel fares.
Angry voters hit out after the Mayor admitted the promised freeze would not cover daily or weekly travelcards or contactless caps – claiming they were not under his control.
It perhaps doesn’t say great things about either me, or the state of British democracy, that I can’t find it in myself to even be angry about this. I mean, did anyone not see this coming? We all knew this already, surely?
There were several strong arguments for electing Sadiq Khan as London’s mayor: repudiating his main opponent’s racist campaign; showing that Islam is not incompatible with western democracy.
“This is a man who can be trusted to deliver on his promises!” was never one of those arguments. I can see why people who thought they were voting for flat fares are outraged to discover that they weren’t. But, well... we told you so.
On the upside, from that Evening Standard piece:
TfL confirmed on Wednesday it could now afford the Mayor’s four-year fares freeze without harming investment in the capital’s transport infrastructure.
It said the pledge would now cost £640 million - substantially lower than the £1.9 billion figure mentioned during the election campaign.
So, no, most Londoners’ fares haven’t been frozen. On the upside, the transport network is less likely to break. Which is probably good.
Oh, we were wrong about one thing, though. The headline of Rachel Holdsworth’s piece predicted the fares thing would be the new mayor’s first broken promise. He’s already gone back on plans to scrap the Garden Bridge.
When Khan won the mayoralty, Business Insider, hilariously, described him as “Britain’s Obama”. But another great American is perhaps the better comparison. As Groucho Marx once said, “Those are my principles. And if you don’t like them... well, I have others.”